Sean Thackrey, Creator of Eccentric California Wines, Dies at 79

He started to improve the property, including adding grape vines to a fence. On a lark, he made some wine from them, liked it, and decided to try it again. He bought grapes from the esteemed Fay Vineyard, in Napa Valley, and released his first wine, a cabernet/merlot blend he called Aquila, in 1981. He named his winery Thackrey and Co. Though he made a vanishingly small amount of it, and never more than a few thousand cases a year, his wine was an immediate hit among the Bay Area’s enological cognoscenti. He soon moved on from cabernet, working with varietals that were then obscure, like merlot and syrah, or no varietals at all, blending grapes and vintages to get the taste he liked. By the time he left his San Francisco art gallery to make wine full time in 1995, he had developed a global following, with almost half his wines going to Europe and Japan. Enthusiasts fell in love with his brawny, expressive releases, often labeled “editions” — not “vintages,” since he might cancel an annual release if it didn’t meet his expectations — and named for constellations: Orion, Pleiades, Andromeda. Even at the height of his popularity, Mr. Thackrey kept his operation small, even domestic. He never owned a vineyard, made much of his wine in his backyard, and employed just a few assistants — all the better, he insisted, to allow him to focus on his craft.